Depression and Suicide in Older Adults

Nearly 2 million older Americans have some type of depression. Sadly, some of them even take their own lives. Yet depression among older adults is often ignored. Learn the warning signs. You may help spare a loved one needless pain. You may also save a life.

Elderly couple, woman holding her head with hand and man sitting with his hand on her shoulder consoling her.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way you think and feel. The most common symptom is a feeling of deep sadness. People who are depressed also may seem tired and listless. And nothing seems to give them pleasure. It’s normal to grieve or be sad sometimes. But sadness lessens or passes with time. Depression rarely goes away or improves on its own. Other symptoms of depression are:

  • Sleeping more or less than normal

  • Eating more or less than normal

  • Having headaches, stomachaches, or other pains that don’t go away

  • Feeling nervous, “empty,” or worthless

  • Crying a great deal

  • Thinking or talking about suicide or death

  • Feeling confused or forgetful

What causes it?

The causes of depression aren’t fully known. Certain chemicals in the brain play a role. Depression does run in families. And life stresses can also trigger depression in some people. That may be the case with older adults. They often face great burdens, such as the death of friends or a spouse. They may have failing health. And they are more likely to be alone, lonely, or poor.

How you can help

Often, depressed people may not want to ask for help. When they do, they may be ignored. Or, they may receive the wrong treatment. You can help by showing parents and older friends love and support. If they seem depressed, help them find the right treatment. Talk to your doctor. Or contact a local mental health center, social service agency, or hospital. With modern treatment, no one has to suffer from depression.


  • National Institute of Mental Health


  • National Alliance on Mental Illness


  • Mental Health America


  • National Suicide Hotline

    800-784-2433 (800-SUICIDE)

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

    800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK)